With few recognised 'stars', the Roncalli U15 rugby team showed how it is team culture that leads to success.
Set in the beautiful surrounds of Queenstown, the U15 'Colts' rugby team performed beyond expectations in the 2018 Rural Livestock South Island Co Ed Schools U15 Rugby Tournament, winning Division 2 after narrowly missing out on a top 8 placing.
Whilst a wintry blast may have ripped through the Lewis Pass on Sunday night and left a fresh dusting of snow on the mountains, the bright sunshine of the three days made conditions perfect for free-flowing rugby at the Queenstown Events Centre. An amalgam of players from the the U16 and U14.5 teams, the 'Colts' were coached by Celtic stalwarts Andre de Joux, Kerry O'Connor and former bullocking Roncalli First XV 2nd V, Ben Watson. Using a new structure in which players used variation in lines with multiple players in motion to create a range of options, it was outstanding defence and commitment to retain posession that saw the team end the tournament with a points differential of +1, only losing 2 games, by 1 and 5 points respectively.
As with any tournament it took a while for the team to gel. The first up 15 all draw with Central Southland College and a narrow one point loss to Dunstan (Alexandra) 19-20 meant that progress out of pool play to Division 1 was always going to be a struggle. This was exacerbated by the horrific injury toll in the first 10 minutes of the game against South Otago High School, including the tournament ending head clash for Sam O'Driscoll, who was the best player on the paddock in all games up until this time. Despite losing half the forward pack, Roncalli were holding on to a 5-5 scoreline and it was only a length of the field break out that dashed all hopes , ending 5-10.
However, the signs were there that it was all about to click. Led by the unflappable Hayden Kerr with his precise general play and precision goal kicking, the unstoppable Bismark that was Angus Jensen and the ubiquitous Angus Rooney, Roncalli showed how structure and commitment to the contact situation can overcome raw physical talent. Caleb Houston was becoming a consistent threat as he found the groove in his new position of fullback, with agility and pace. In a heart stopping, see-sawing game, another battle of attrition saw Roncalli show confidence in their decision making to triumph firstly over Ashburton College (22-21) in the quarters and then Cashmere High (6-5) in the semi final, setting up a rematch with Central Southland College in the final.
Fast and physical, Adam Currie was typical of the team effort, putting on an exhibition as open side flanker (resulting in his selection in the Tournament team), whilst George Laing's growing awareness and intelligence in defensive decision making and line speed ensured that the dangerous Central Southland backs could not find their rhythm. After sustained team commitment and ball control from all, Hayden Kerr embraced pressure to slot the deciding penalty, 6-5 with minutes to play. From the kick off you could see the resolve set on the faces of the players. The feeling between the players, their willingness to work as a team, the glue that bound them together, hardened around him and Roncalli repelled repeated attacks in the final minutes for a win for the College, and a culture that will lead to good things in the future.
It was a stunning end to a satisfying tournament that showed not only a positive culture within the team and a calmness under pressure, but the camaraderie and enthusiasm of the parents, who burned just as much energy as the players.